Does My Child Qualify for an IEP?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Which category to use for IEP if multiple categories apply?

March 2007

Has anyone had experience with an IEP when their child has issues that cross many categories but doesn't really qualify under one particular category (i.e. speech, emotional disturbance, autism...).

My son is in kindergarten. He has ADHD and speech delays and currently has an aide. His school is in the process of assessing him & it looks like the category that most clearly fits him (by the school's rules) is ''emotional disturbance''. This shocks me since in all our years of doctors & assessments this has never been mentioned. But, looking at the schools definition of ''emotional disturbance'' he does seem to qualify.

I guess I'm wondering if there are any issues with having him qualify for resources based on the category of ''emotional disturbance''. With all his other issues I never saw these behaviors as a problem, I thought they were just a result of him being immature & hopefully would eventually resolve themselves - it's a shock to learn differently.

I've always been comfortable with him qualifying for an IEP under speech & just want to understand if anything changes or gets limited by us changing categories. The problem really is that althought it's acknowledged that he has serious issues & needs support no one has been able to successfully determine a solution for all his issues.

Thanks for the help. Upset & Confused

I don't live where you live, but I do live with a special education teacher, and from what I understand you should be looking at the additional resources that are available to you under that classification. I know it is difficult to think of your child having an ''emotional disturbance'' but so much of these labels are based on somewhat gross generalizations. Having this label attached to your kid is not going to change your relationship to him or his behavior, but it may give you access to more support that he might actually need like behavior therapy to help him find ways moderate his actions in a positive way. I would ask your teacher what the benefits are of switching his IEP and what the costs are, and then make a decision. You are in charge, ultimately, so if it really doesn't sit well with you, demand that he not be changed over to that grouping. Also, see if you can connect with any other parents in your school/district to get advice on resource follow through. just a thought

The short answer is that a child who qualifies should receive intervention in all areas of need, though qualifying for speech alone probably has the most limitations. The school may be considering mental health services from the county in its recommendation for ED. Your situation sounds too complicated to answer here in a general way - please feel free to contact me with more information and we can talk about what your child's options might be. Dana
Negotiating the Maze Special Education Advocacy, Research, Support

Dear Upset, 1) What school district are you? 2)I don't know if there is a downside, other than not receiving services. If you need/want psych services as part of the IEP services, then I think SED is a good fit. We were in the same boat that you were at the end of kindergarten, and the team wavered between SED and OHI. They ended up going with OHI (Other Health Impaired) which is so vague that is could cover anything.

Have a look at the rewrite of the Oakland forms if you are in Oakland; they were revised last summer, and there is explanatory material. (I searched ''serious emotional disturbance iep services oakland'' to find that one. No quotes when you do the search, though.)

Remember that your child is so young that it may be hard for anyone to diagnose authoritatively. Our son went from PDD-NOS to NVLD over the course of 4 years as therapies helped and he aged and grew into his brain and body. You may have one handicapping condition this year and a new one at the next triannual.

So if you want the psych services, be open to it. But as I have said: I don't know if there is a downside. Let's see if there is another answer out there in BPN land. good luck! - Nancy

I used to work with kids with special needs in a Bay Area school district -- consider hiring an advocate. Sure, it's not cheap, but it's been my experience that the district will give you more of what you want when you have outside help on your side. It doesn't have to be confrontational... ask around for good advocates. k

Hi! My understanding that as a teacher and parent of two special ed kids is that they have to qualify for one of the 13 categories in order to have an IEP and receive services. It sounds like the school is trying to help you keep the services you have, which is good. I played up my youngest son's issues in order to receive the services he desperately needed, as he was borderline and would have been an easy target to deny.

It feels totally unnatural as a parent, but yields the result you want in the end.

ADHD alone generally only means a Sec. 504, but not special ed, and therefore, no IEP. anon

Emotionally Disturbed is such a charged category, that unless your child really fits that medical (not school) profile, avoid it. It depends on your school district, but there's a tendency to segregate such children into a special day classroom rather than providing support to learn in a general classroom.

A child can qualify under multiple categories as well as OHI -- Otherwise Health Impaired. It would be very helpful to consult a special education advocate who understands the process.

At this point, the smart thing to do is to get your child a private, professional neuropsych evaluation. It is money will spent to understand exactly what his disabilities are, how they mask his intelligence, and a roadmap for helping him grow. Children don't grow out of behavior; they learn with the help of parents & teachers, and when needed, therapists. -- Been There

My kid does not have ADHD, so I can't help with specific advice, but this website might be of interest and help: You could also sign up for the specialneedsnetwork[at]yahoogroups, and post there. good luck

I have a son who had an IEP with no clear cut 'diagnosis' but issues that went across the spectrum. I would be careful about relying on the school's testing and assessment as much as you are. If you haven't I would highly recommend getting a private neuropsych assessment done. It will cost you $3,500 but if you go to the right person it will be the best money you ever spent. Make sure they are a true neuropsych like Kristin Gross or Carina Grandison in Oakland. You will have all the answers you need including what he needs from his IEP. anon

I teach at a non-public school for children with special needs. I know the term emotional disturbance is very unsavory and some may feel a stigma attached to it. However, do not despair! I have several points to make: 1. Emotional disturbance (ED) is an educational term and not from the DSM-IV, the manual which psychiatrists use. 2. It is not necessarily a permanent label. I have had students whose ''qualifying condition'' for special education has changed even if the services haven't. 3. the most important thing is getting the right services for your son and support for your family. The ED label may get you more intensive services which may be what is needed at this time. Honestly, I do not think of my students as their labels but as the individuals they are. A good program and teacher will too. 4. Finally as a parent of a student in special education you have alot of rights. Contact CASE, an advocacy group to educate yourself and get support at future IEPs and with services and placement decisions. I hope this helps! a Special Ed teacher

Obviously each diagnosis carries with it a certain bias toward certain kinds of support and away from others. For instance, a child with a physical disability wouldn't be offered speech therapy if his/her speech were unaffected. But in principle, the IEP is just that: an INDIVIDUALIZED education plan, which thus offers your child whatever services are required to meet the goals set in the IEP, regardless of which box is checked as the qualifying diagnosis. The only thing I'd say about a speech qualification is that it is contingent on the opinon of speech therapists who may, in theory, one day decide your child no longer needs services. Other diagnoses, such as autism, are life-long diagnoses, so there's no danger of the special ed designation being pulled by the district. The labels are always disturbing at first, but I learned pretty fast that they are fairly irrelevent, since no child is a textbook case of anything. I no longer see my child's label as a curse, but rather as a means to an end: by accepting the label, I entitle my child to the help and support he needs to be successful in school. I have no interest in showing the district all the ways my son does not conform to the symptoms of his label--I see it as a tool that helps, rather than hurts us. As for the label affecting his social situation or how he is treated by the teacher, my feeling has been that people were going to know my child was different whether he came with a label or not, so there wasn't much harm in putting a name on how he was different, esp. because teachers are often too overworked to even read IEP's (not that that's a good thing), and no one else--not other students or other teachers--is allowed to see anything about your child or his or her diagnosis. I guess I'm saying that I wouldn't worry so much about whether or not your child really looks like the ''typical'' version of any particular label, but rather ask yourself what will get your child the most support and services that he/she needs for the period of time you think he'll need it.

By the way, among my friends with children with special needs, the common opinion is that the label you want least is actually that of ADHD, since it's probably the one the teacher has heard of, and about which the teacher probably already has a bunch of preconceived notions, which affects how he/she approaches and deals with your child. I've yet to meet a teacher who knew the first thing about Aspergers, for instance, so seeing that on an IEP doesn't really prejudice them, since they have no idea what it looks like. Also, it's not that easy to get an IEP for ADHD--you are often offered the accomodation route instead (I think it's called a 504). Good luck! been there

I have lots of IEP experience but no answer for your specific question. I just wanted to write in case nobody else on BPN knows- and even if you do get other answers, I wouldn't trust most internet posters for accuracy on such a vital question for your son's educational future. Maybe you could get a legal advocate, or even consult with an attorney about this question. Also, you can learn a lot at or maybe call Protection and Advocacy (PAI) 510-267-1200 good luck

IEP for 5th grader with mental health issues

March 2006

I've been advised that I should advocate for an IEP (individual education plan) for my fifth grader, who has been out of school for more than three weeks now with psychiatric issues. She is currently doing independent study using work from her teacher at home.

Has anyone from BPN gone through the process of getting an IEP for mental health issues? I'm particularly interested in knowing how long the process might take. We're near the end of March now, and come June, she'll be done with her school for good(they stop at fifth grade). We might get the IEP too late to really do anything at this current school, if it takes a while to get. anon, please

I don't have experience with this exact issue but I do have experience with IEP's. It seems to me you should be forming now the IEP team she will have at her new school, in 6th grade. I recommend meeting with the program specialist & psychologist soon before this school term ends. They will need to review her reports and with you, formulate her plan. I assume you would have her personal psychiatrist involved in those meetings as well. Depending on her issues, it might be nice for her to start touring the school, meeting some of her teachers, or what not. If you wait until next fall you may not be able to meet until October, then changes don't get implemented until November, and you've lost 2 or 3 months. Plus I think if is possible her problems may flare up during school hours, there needs to be some teacher education about her issues and also a specific plan for what to do when this happens. Good luck, stay aggressive in advocating for your daughter. You have the legal right to have an enviroment for her that works. anon

You can definitely get an IEP for a child based on emotional/psychiatric issues. Many districts have classes for children who are SED/ED (severely emotionally disturbed or Emotionally Disturbed. What you need to do is write a formal letter asking that your daughter be assessed. If she has a diagnosis from a pyschiatrist I would also include this information in the letter as well. Tell them you are concerned that she is missing school due to these issues and that you would like her to be evaluated for special education services. This is a good site to reference and you can call them for help as well.

I saw your post on the IEP process and I am SPED teacher at a school that deals with Emotionally Disturbed students of all ages. Although I primarily work with the middle and high schoolers. As far as the timing of the IEP process, if you have not had any prior assessments done (usually by the school/district) then it could be somewhat lengthy. However, the process is supposed to be as quick as possible legally and you can push for immediacy. With most distrcits, ou get what you ask for and I recommend asking for everything you think would help your child. First of all, based on the info you gave, it sound like your child may be eligible for placement in a therapeutically intesive school setting such as a non public school (an NPS) as opposed to being secluded at home with no direct educational teaching forma teacher. MY recommendation is to intervene as early as possible so that your fifth grader can get the services and the help that he/she needs to get back to his/her life in a mainstream public school environment. Additionally, as far as your concern about the end of the academic year coming to a close quite quickly, you might consider that should your child be eligble for a NPS placement, most of them are year round schools and your child could be getting individual. group and art therapy during the summer as well. Good Luck!

Both my children have had problems attending school, they have 504 plans, the next step would be a IEP. It depends on how severe your problem is and how long your child will be out of school. The IEP is a more formal process. For instance if your child may be able to attend school for long periods and be out of school for for only weeks at a time, I recommend the 504 plan as being more flexible. The IEP is, in my opinion, for long term issues of High frequency. When you ask for an IEP do it in writing. The school is obligated to reply to your request in two weeks to a month after evaluation and a plan must be put in place. Schools do not like the IEP due to the restrictive nature and the councilers may try to persuade you that this is not the way to go. That could be possible but check out all the options. I always opted for the 504 plan over the IEP. I heald the IEP as an incentive for the teaching staff to comply with whatever program we had in place. The Curves Lady

IEP for Private School Student?

March 2003

Is this an oxymoron, or can an IEP be established for a student in a private school as a way to obtain government-funded services for the child in-school or out? Who does one go to? What is the impact on the child's academic record? anonymous

Every school-aged child in California is entitled to an IEP, whether in public or private school. However, you should be aware that the district will most likely require that testing happen during school hours, at their location, not your child's, and that any services provided also happen during school hours, at their location. In our district (Piedmont), the testing team kept in contact with the private school teacher (who had asked for the assessment), and would have included her in the IEP meeting had our daughter qualified for services. Even though she didn't qualify, it was worth having gone through the process, because we brought her back to public school in middle school and they already had a record of her academic issues. Cynthia

Every child should have a right to an IEP, and it's been decentralized, so you could start with the principal of the local school that your child would go to if he or she were not in a private school. If that doesn't work, I would suggest calling the school district and seeing if they can point you in the right direction. Anon

My understanding is that local school districts are more or less required to offer testing and other assessment of kids with learning differences, but that they get to decide whether and to what extent they will offer IEP assistance and other assistance for kids with learning differences. In Oakland, the school system apparently will test but not offer actual assistance and support beyond testing. This is a very sore point for my family and in the community of the independent school our son attends because we do pay taxes to support the public school system but have no access to the public services we need to address our son's learning differences. It is a real strain on many families to pay directly for the support services needed for kids with learning differences. My understanding is that there is a substantial wait time in many districts to get access to testing and services. Our impression of Oakland was that you essentially need to imply you are putting your child in the Oakland public schools in order to get access even to testing. Good luck! Maybe you are in a city that is more open with its public services for kids with learning differences. Dave

I am a teacher in a public school and I understand that you are eligible to seek services through the public school district that your child would go to had you not opted to send him/her to a private one. I would call the district office for your area and get in touch with the Special Services department. Elaine

In order to have an IEP, you would have to contact the school nearest your home or your school district special education department and write a letter requesting a special education assessment to see if your child qualifies for services. If he/she does, then they would have to go to the nearest public school to recieve the service. To my knowledge, they do not provide service at private schools. good luck janette

Just a few more thoughts to add: put everything in writing, definitely your request for an IEP once you find the correct contact. You will have to prove that your public district cannot properly serve your child's needs; start gathering as much information, in writing, as you can about her/his issues and needs to support that. You could also contact the Family Resource Network (510-547-7322) and Nolo Press for some pamphlets or books about the IEP process. Good luck to you in this arduous process!! Anon

Private schools have no duty to accomodate students--an IEP in a private school is indeed an oxymoron. Some private schools will do informal accomodations, which you would work out through teacher(s) or the principal, or both. Some are very good at this. Some won't do it at all.

There are certainly specialized private schools who take public school students with IEP's, but that is because they contract with public schools and are essentially ''in the business'' of supplying services to them. Usually these schools have nothing BUT referred public school students, who are generally severely disabled. These students, however, start out through the public system. also anonymous


IEP for Gifted Child?

Dec 2002


In some states, IEPs are written for gifted children as well as for children with disabilities. It doesn't seem to be standard practice in California, however. Has any of you done this, or investigated it, as a means of getting a more appropriate education for a gifted child. If so, what happened? What did you learn?
Parent of very bored, good kid

You're right, there is no mandate for gifted IEPs in California. Districts decide individually whether to take money for gifted education at all and how to use it. Though it is supposed to serve gifted kids in a different way than non-gifted kids, it doesn't always operate that way, because there's an attitude that addressing gifted kids' needs is somehow elitist or undemocratic. Unless you find a class or school that serves gifted kids specifically (I think there's at least one in LA or San Diego), you can forget your kid being served by the public school system in any systematic way. You may occasionally find a teacher willing to work with you, but who may still need educating; in that case, I recommend Susan Winebrenner's Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. The rest is up to you to find outside of school - Stanford's EPGY program, Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth (though I think they've changed the name), Berkeley's ATDP - all very expensive, though there are scholarships. We moved from a place with a very good gifted pull-out class where most kids were pretty anti- intellectual to one where learning is respected, so our experience with public school is to live where your kid will go to school with other kids who want to learn and will challenge, support, and compete with your kid. Dana

Last year our son was totally bored in kindergarten. He had started public school after two years in Montessori preschool and was reading at a 5th grade level, doing simple multiplication, playing tournament chess and asking his dad to explain WWII. Not your typical public school kindergartener. We wanted to skip him to 2nd grade and opened a can of worms, starting the IEP process. The teacher and principal were very supportive. Academics-wise, the conclusion was that he could easily go into 2nd grade. A psychologist assessed his behavior on the playground and suggested he enter 1st grade. Result: he is now terminally bored in 1st grade, won't do his homework and his teacher recommends we get him out of public school and into the best private school we can find. Even if a child is ''gifted'' in the lower grades, there really isn't much the teacher can do to vary the lesson among 20+ kids. He is doing SRA reading and math at his own pace, but that's about it. Don't know if this helps shed some light on your situation. Good luck getting a good education for your child. I guess I would just say be proactive. kl

In the Berkely Unified School District, you can request a Student Study Team review of your child's needs. Most people think of SST as only being for ''problem kids'' but they should serve all parents/teachers/students needing support. SST includes the child's teacher and sometimes past teacher, a teacher from a higher grade, someone from Special Ed., and anyone else can be invited who may have input (GATE teacher, psychologist, etc.) The goal is to brainstorm ideas that will better help the child succeed. Some things to think about: time in a higher grade for a subject area the child excells in, like math; grade accelleration (consider lots of testing before going here) outside activities/support, etc. Ask how GATE is administered in your school. You can reqest an accounting of how differentiated instruction is being applied to your child if he/she is in the GATE program (GATE in Berekely begins in 4th grade.) Follow-up SSTs will also be scheduled to see how things are working out. Be aware that some schools have SSTs every week, but they are often booked months in advance and other schools only schedule on an as-needed basis. SSTs are more problem-solving and do not have the binding capacity of IEP anon

IEP's are for students who are in Special Education. Being GATE doesn't qualify as Special Ed. I doubt that your friends' children really have IEPs since Federal laws about serving students with special needs are what determine who qualifies as special ed. The students you know may have a 504 plan in place. These are individualized plans for students who have needs that don't qualify for Special Ed. Usually these are for kids who have needs, but can still function in a regular classroom but need modifications. (Students with ADD, ODD, low vision, stuttering, etc.)

I haven't heard of these for students who are GATE though. Plus, I don't think that 504 or an IEP can really address your child's issue. If the teacher is boring, there isn't a whole lot that the plan for your child can do about it. The teacher would probably just give her extra work to do or tell her to bring a book to class and read once the regular class work is completed. (In the teacher's defence, if your child is in an average heterogeneous classroom here in the bay area, chances are there are 35 kids in the room and at least 4 of them are functionally illiterate, and one third to half the class is below grade level. Add to that kids with behavior problems, and then the regular work that goes into the job - preparing lessons from the text, creating new lessons, making photocopies, grading, decorating classrooms, organizing/cleaning a classroom, meeting with parents, involvement in extra curricular activities, etc. ... well kids who are smart and capable of doing the work and bored are probably not the highest priority. That is not to say that your child doesn't have needs that should be met, just that the demands on that teacher are overwhelming and so not every child's personal needs can be met.)

Has your child been tested and designated GATE? If so then the school is receiving money from the state to provide enrichment, and you should ask the school what that is. At some schools it is special feild trips, or books that can be checked out, or a classroom computer, at others it is a separate class. What ever it is, they need to provide services to the students for whom they receive funds. Usually there is a committee at the school that involves parents of GATE kids to determine how that money should be spent also, get involved in it so that it is being spent in a way that will benefit the kids most. a teacher